After cardiovascular risks, cancer is probably the most serious condition linked to sleep apnea. It has become increasingly clear that sleep apnea can increase cancer risks, but it’s not been altogether clear how sleep apnea contributed to cancer risks.
For example, studies show that sleep apnea reduces the odds of survival from breast cancer. And they show that sleep apnea increases the aggressiveness of melanoma. But we haven’t known how sleep apnea contributes to these problems. Until now.
Joint research between the University of Chicago and the University of Barcelona shows that sleep apnea may alter crucial signals between cells, known as exosomes.
What Are Exosomes?
Exosomes are described as vesicles that emerge from cells into the fluid of the body. A vesicle is like a little packet–sometimes an organ and sometimes just a collection of material–enclosed in a layer of lipid molecules.
Exosomes have gotten a lot of attention recently when it was discovered that they were able to carry information between cells, and may play an important role in mediating cancer growth. The content of exosomes can affect many aspects of cancer growth. Exosomes can signal when a cancer should turn malignant. They can help cancer keep the immune system from attacking it. And they can help cancer grow crucial blood vessels to support tumor growth.
How Sleep Apnea May Affect Exosomes in Lung Cancer
To determine how sleep apnea impacts the growth of cancer, researchers looked at the growth rates of lung tumors in mice. Half of the mice with tumors were kept in a normal atmosphere environment. The other half were exposed to intermittent hypoxia to simulate episodes of sleep apnea.
They found that when mice were exposed to simulated sleep apnea, their bodies produced more exosomes. Not only that, but the mice with simulated sleep apnea saw more growth of their lung cancers. And when exosomes from the sleep apnea mice was put in contact with lung cancer cells, they stimulated the growth of those cancer cells. Researchers even went one step further, showing that exosomes extracted from people with sleep apnea could stimulate the growth of human lung cancer cells. Looking at the messenger RNA carried in the exosomes, researchers were able to identify likely key sequences for stimulating cancer.
Protect Your Health with Sleep Apnea Treatment
Now that we’ve found a strong, direct mechanism by which sleep apnea can contribute to the growth of cancer, it seems even more important that everyone with sleep apnea should get treatment. Hopefully, getting suitable sleep apnea treatment sooner could head off the development of cancer and reduce risks in the future.